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County rejects drilling near Gulf shore


BRADENTON - It wasn't all she wanted, but she'll take it.

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Barbara Hines of Holmes Beach stood outside the County Commission chambers on Monday afternoon, and said she was glad that the Manatee commissioners voted 7-0 to approve writing a resolution opposing oil drilling in state waters, and glad that they voted 7-0 to keep an eye on the goings-on in Washington, but she was disappointed with the speaker from Mote Marine Laboratory.

"I did find it perplexing that the expert was someone trained in political science and economics who had no background in any environmental issue, and tended to discount the input of environmentalists as having an agenda, but never mentioned the fact that the oil companies have an agenda and profits," Hines said.

Frank Alcock, the director of the Marine Policy Institute, said he was trying to be the honest broker and clarify the science and package it in an accessible way.

"A lot of the science tends to be in jargon that most folks can't understand," he said.

There are risks and rewards of drilling, Alcock said, and these need to be weighed carefully. The risks include ecological impacts from tar balls and spills, as well as the impact on the beaches. The rewards include money from royalties in the state budget, jobs and landside infrastructure.

Showing a comparison shot of Siesta Key Beach and South Padre Island in Texas was literally like day and night. Siesta Key Beach had white sand, while South Padre Island had dark sand and a tar ball in the middle.

But Alcock said that there are geological differences that cause the beaches to be different colors. Still, he admitted, "We're not used to tarballs. You have a lot more to lose."

There are risks from accidents, discharges of ballast from oil tankers, the effects of drilling fluids, visual pollution and noise pollution. True, he said, some oil rigs when folded are not visible from three miles away, but the noise from the rigs might affect marine life.

There are plenty of analyses of the possible economic impact of oil drilling near the shore, and Henry Fishkind has made a lot of predictions about what would happen in the state.

Fishkind sees tens of thousands of jobs, $2.3 billion to $12 billion in additional state budget revenue and an estimate of 3 billion barrels.

But Alcock warns that these are just projections, and experts say they have no idea where Fishkind is getting his numbers from.

"He may be right, but I wouldn't bet my house on it," Alcock said. In fact, Fishkind has made some very wrong predictions about Florida's economy, including that unemployment had hit bottom - in April 2008 - and that the real estate market wouldn't crash.

Also, it may be years before the state sees any benefit, and since the oil would have to be sent to Texas and Louisiana for refining, the impact on consumer gas prices would be minimal. There is talk of huge gas reserves, and they might help cut some of the cost of electricity, but the dreamed-of oil boom may never materialize, he said.

Still, the best goal might be to minimize risk and maximize the rewards for the state if drilling can't be stopped, Alcock said, and a peer review/assessment panel might even have the support of industry. If the Legislature does decide on drilling, it'll be important to get as high a royalty rate as possible, and to push for an assurance bond of up to $1 billion in case there is a disaster.

"I agree with you that hopefully this can be stopped at the state level, but I do have concerns federally," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, adding that the county must join with other communities to oppose drilling. "This commissioner does not support drilling in the Gulf or in state waters."

Commissioner John Chappie said he wasn't willing to take any chances with the state's No. 1 industry, tourism.

"The risks are too high. I'm not willing to bet the farm or the house," he said. "Our bread and butter is tourism around here. One accident could ruin us for years and years."

Commissioner Joe McClash said there was a need to be very clear about their intent because he said he's seen oil rigs on the coast in Louisiana, and rigs could end up inside Tampa Bay.

After the votes, a number of people who came to the meeting burst into applause.

Outside the chambers, Francine Slack said she was happy with the outcome.

"I really like the idea of their getting somebody to watch at the federal level," she said.

"I think we need to watch what's happening up there and hopefully get our position in."

Also Tuesday, the commission voted on the following items:

  • Appointment of a special counsel to sue to collect unpaid tourism taxes. Vote was 6-1, with McClash dissenting.
  • A resolution on the use of board letterhead also carried 6-1, again with McClash dissenting.
  • A motion to name Commissioner Larry Bustle an alternate on the West Coast Inland Navigation District passed 7-0.
  • A motion on the Marine Rescue Headquarters project, which was removed from the consent agenda, passed 7-0.


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